[image: Feeder & Snow, 2014, JA Van Devender]
Titus 2:6–8 (NKJV)
6 Likewise, exhort the young men to be sober-minded, 7 in all things showing yourself to be a pattern of good works; in doctrine showing integrity, reverence, incorruptibility, 8 sound speech that cannot be condemned, that one who is an opponent may be ashamed, having nothing evil to say of you.
So heralds the NYT story hawking a new biography of Marion Robert Morrison, a.k.a. "The Duke", a.k.a. John Wayne, and it pretty much sums up my youth.
In my case I probably would have first agreed that "The Duke" pretty much summed up the man that I wanted my father to be. There was a distinct resemblance between the two. They were about the same age, had the same general height and external demeanor, especially in my dad's youth, same kind of "look" if you will.
Duke, as he preferred to be called, always understood the difference between his screen persona and himself. According to this article, he aspired to be the man he played and I don't find that particularly hypocritical of him. The Classical Greek sculptures always depicted the ideal, the perfection of man toward which man should aspire in beauty and nobility. I think that the modern rejection of that aspiration does more damage than good. Men and women benefit from images set before them that raise their expectations of themselves and others. Too much "realism", showing heroes as being essentially as broken as the villains, dampens men's spirits and lower expectations. We need the "John Wayne" figures cast before us, whether they be Shakespeare's Brutus ("His life was gentle, and the elements So mixed in him that Nature might stand up And say to all the world, 'This was a man!") or George Washington holding the War for Independence together by his sheer integrity and fortitude.
Though they be sinners, set in concrete and requiring salvation along with every other mortal fallen human being, yet they give us an image of what we might be and urge us to not only aspire but to pursue the virtues their images promote.
With John Wayne, it was American Masculinity - rough-edged, strong-willed, coarse but polite when appropriate, and committed to justice rather than law. He uniformly chose roles that conformed to this image and strictly rejected any others. He remained a mostly B-grade movie actor, though imminently prosperous, because of that. As the avant-garde Hollywood elite moved more and more into the "film noire" genre, the Duke continued to make westerns, or "The Quiet Man" or "The Sands of Iwo Jima." The good guy didn't always survive but his side did and his values were vindicated. Respect was a two way street and it was required.
"The Shootist" was his greatest work, IMHO, though "The Searchers" gained more critical acclaim and "True Grit" was his most popular. "The Shootist" was the Dukes loving farewell to his buds in the movie industry and his fans in the audience. He was dying, he knew it, and he portrayed a "shootist" who was in the same situation.
My favorite line in that movie was when John Bernard Books (the Duke) summed up his life: "I won't be wronged. I won't be insulted. I won't be laid a-hand on. I don't do these things to other people, and I require the same from them." That was "John Wayne" to the core. Virtue was respect. He respected himself as one who did not "do these things to other people" and virtue demanded that he "require the same from them." There was many a fake knock-down drag-out first fight in his career ("The Quiet Man" especially) to embody this ideal and there was, of course, Rooster Cogburn calling out to the bad guys who faced him "Fill your hands, you S... of B....s" as he spurred his horse onward with the reins in his teeth ("True Grit"). But as fake as it was, you had to smile, and you also, in the depths of your heart, wished it really was this way and that there really were men with such "true grit."
It is a romantic image, I know, and taken too far, could be disastrous. Very few fist fights, then or now, were as easily won or as nobly fought as Wayne's clean, don't hit a guy when he is down, nothing below the belt, depictions. Men, both relatively good and relatively bad, are more complex than their aspirations allow. Also, the end result of pugnacity when wronged is pretty far removed from the mature Christian approach. But I wonder if one doesn't have to "go through" a stage where a man (especially) proves to himself that refraining from enforcing respect for himself is an act of greater nobility than the other and is not rooted in cowardice or weakness. I am not certain that young men can get to that stage apart from some exploration of their own character and testing of their own courage, especially when it involves defending a point of principle.
Perhaps we ought to go back to having boxing matches as part of a young man's development. Just a thought and not one I am prepared to defend, but something along those lines.
All this is to say that the article reminded me of my child-hood hero and an image that I tried to emulate. I don't think the world is a better place for not having such an image of masculinity set before us any longer.